Senators back U.S. women’s hockey players in wage dispute with USA Hockey

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(From left) US Kandall Coyne, Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight and Emily Pfalzer celebrate Brianna Decker's 1-1 goal during the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship semifinal match between USA and Russia at Malmo Isstadion in Malmo, southern Sweden, on April 3, 2015. (Claudio Bresciani/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Fourteen U.S. senators wrote a letter to USA Hockey’s executive director Monday over their concerns about the treatment of the women’s national team.

Players have threatened to boycott the upcoming world championships over a wage dispute. The senators, all Democrats, urged David Ogrean to resolve the matter and ensure the team receives “equitable resources.” They cited the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.

USA Hockey’s board of directors meets Monday, and players said Sunday night they hope there’s a deal.

The senators joined a chorus of support that also includes unions representing players from the NHL, NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. Those organizations said over the weekend they stood with the women’s team and criticized USA Hockey for attempting to find replacement players.

The U.S. is the defending champion at the International Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, which begins Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

In negotiations over the past 15 months, players have asked for a four-year contract that pays them outside the six-month Olympic period. The senators’ letter notes the $6,000 that players earn around the Olympics and USA Hockey’s $3.5 million annual spending on the men’s national team development program and other discrepancies.

“These elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect, and we hope you will be a leader on this issue as women continue to push for equality in athletics,” the senators wrote.

In a statement Sunday night, players said they hoped USA Hockey would approve terms discussed during a productive meeting last week. They said the agreement has the “potential to be a game changer for everyone.”

The women also might be getting support in their quest for equitable pay from the men who wear the same jersey.

The team met Sunday night to discuss its plan for a meeting with USA Hockey’s board of directors on Monday. The players hope USA Hockey will agree to negotiating terms set out recently in Philadelphia to improve their meager financial compensation.
Athletes’ unions across the continent have voiced their support of the women’s team, urging other players to turn down USA Hockey’s overtures to act as replacement players.

Allan Walsh, a well-connected hockey agent, disclosed Sunday on Twitter that American NHL players are thinking about refusing to play in their own world championships in solidarity if the women’s dispute isn’t resolved.

The letter was signed by: Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Patty Murray of Washington, Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Thomas Carper of Delaware, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

The women’s tournament begins March 31.